As with virtually all dishes, in vegetarian cooking the sauces and seasonings play an important role, as they are usually the dominant components.
Generally speaking, vegetables and tofu go very well with wine. Vegetables have more inherent flavour than meat, and their consistency is often crunchy. Some of these vegetable aromas harmonize wonderfully with wine, some examples being beetroot with Pinot noir, asparagus with Sauvignon blanc or truffles with a mature Merlot.
The cooking method, and even the time of day and season, also influence the wine selection. One thing, however, is clear: there is a huge range of wines that partner well with the various vegetarian dishes.
Hot and spicy vegetarian cuisine
Ideally, wines with a low alcohol content should be drunk with hot and spicy food, otherwise the alcohol and the spiciness combine to fiery effect. Whenever possible, you should drink semi-dry or sweet wines with very spicy dishes, as sweetness helps temper the spiciness. If the food is very hot, wine is best avoided entirely. In this case, beer or soft drinks are a better choice.
Spicy vegetarian cuisine
When a dish is spicy but not hot, it immediately becomes much easier to pair food and wine. In the absence of heat, the alcohol and sugar content of the wine no longer dominates. Then, as with all dishes, the main factors to bear in mind are the weight and components such as acidity and tannins. Very spicy dishes are best accompanied by aromatic, fruit-laden and robust wines that can face down the intense flavour of the food.
Sweet exotic salads
Exotic salads such as Thai papaya salad or curried rice salad are distinguished by sweet or hot dressings and are often very spicy too. These salads are not easy to pair with wine, because heat or too much spice overwhelm the flavour of many wines. So again, the dressing must be the primary consideration. If you want fruit in your salad, the best choices are sweet fruits such as papaya or melon. Sour fruits such as oranges or apples often clash with dry wines. If the dressing is wine-friendly, these salads make a good starter and taste wonderful with elegant sparkling wines, light rosés or fruit-laden white wines.
Sweet exotic soups
Exotic soups such as Tom Kha Gai (coconut milk, lemongrass, lime, chilli), Mulligatawny (curry), Tom Yam (ginger, tamarind, shallots, lemongrass, coriander) are often hot and enriched with coconut milk. Heat and wine must be combined with extreme caution. Because of this, wine is only recommended with milder exotic soups.
A lighter, fruit-laden wine should be chosen, ideally with a strong aroma, such as a Riesling from the Moselle, a Muscat from Valais, a rosé from the New World or a light Pinot noir.
Vegetarian pasta and rice dishes
Vegetarian pasta and risottos are usually aromatic and, if required, can be made heavier by adding cream and cheese. A crisp, aromatic white wine such as Sauvignon blanc is normally a good bet with vegetable sauces. If cream is involved, brawnier white wines such as Chardonnay work well and, for spicy and piquant sauces such as Napoli, light red wines such as a Gamay from Valais or a Barbera that hasn't been aged in the barrique are good.
There is a huge variety of cheeses out there. This makes the task of selecting wine both tricky and fascinating in equal measure.
A fresh Camembert with a subtle aroma and not much salt, and a strong-smelling, tart Sbrinz require different wine choices. Because of this, the one-size-fits-all rule of “red wine goes with cheese” does not hold true. It's a case of seeking and finding the right wine for each cheese.
Our experts’ wine recommendations for vegetarian dishes